Thousands of Israelis join anti-government protests

    Thousands of Israeli demonstrators took to the streets on Saturday to call for new elections and demand more action from the government to bring the hostages held in Gaza home, in the latest round of protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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    The protests have continued as the war in Gaza moves through its seventh month and amid growing anger over the government’s approach to the 133 Israeli hostages still held by the Islamist movement Hamas.

    Surveys indicate that most Israelis blame Netanyahu for the security failures that led to the devastating attack by Hamas fighters on communities in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

    Israel’s longest-serving prime minister has repeatedly ruled out early elections, which opinion polls suggest he would lose, saying that to go to the polls in the middle of a war would only reward Hamas.

    “We’re here to protest against this government that keeps dragging us down, month after month; before October 7th, after October 7th. We kept going down in a spiral,” said Yalon Pikman, 58, who attended a march in Tel Aviv.

    Hamas-led gunmen seized 253 people during the Oct. 7 attack that killed around 1,200, according to Israeli tallies. Some hostages were freed in a November truce, but efforts to secure another deal appear to have stalled.

    Netanyahu has pledged to continue the Israeli campaign in Gaza, which local health authorities say has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, until all the hostages are brought home and Hamas has been destroyed.

    Last week’s attack on Israel by waves of Iranian drones and missiles shifted attention from the conflict in Gaza and for many relatives of the remaining hostages there is a growing feeling that time is running out.

    “My mother is really strong. She’s holding us together,” said Sharone Lifschitz, 52, whose 85 year-old mother, Yocheved Lifshitz, was among the hostages released in November but whose father, Oded, remains in captivity.

    “But as time passes, the weight of what is happening – the way that those who could have returned them failed to return them – the sheer weight of that is weighing more and more on her shoulders. And her hope, too, is diminishing.”


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